A friend of mine complained today that an undergraduate geography professor is requiring students to sign up for a bunch of social networks – Twitter, Google+, and a few others. they were told that they have to tweet each other, follow each other, etc., very similar to what we are doing in this class, except with one major difference. The social media part of the course isn’t mentioned in the syllabus, and the professor has not told the students how tweeting and posting fit in with the objectives of the course. In a face to face course where students already communicate, the extra social media communications are superfluous. From what my friend said, the students taking the course are really unhappy.
I think this situation brings up a really important point. If an instructor wants to incorporate social media tools into a course, they can’t take an “everything but the kitchen sink approach.” Unless the course is about social media, asking students to sign up and keep track of four or five different accounts, in addition to regular course assignments, is a recipe for disaster (or bad course evaluations). If the professor doesn’t connect the use of social media to the course objectives, then students will feel that it’s busy work or useless.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think the answer is to expect students to sign up for social media because “it’s fun” or “it makes the course more interesting.” Technology for the sake of technology can’t be the answer. The use of social media in a course has to be backed up with solid pedagogical reasons. It has to be clear how social media fits in with the objectives and benefits students in a way that they won’t get from anything else (like an in-class discussion). Still, what do we do for students with very real concerns about privacy or, God forbid, safety?